A project of the Center for Community Change

Immigration Reform and Numbers: Flexing Our Political Muscle

This week’s post from our guest blogger Robert Gittelson:

I, along with some 60,000 like minded comprehensive immigration reform advocates, attended one of the town hall parties last night. At the event that I was involved in, at CARECEN in Los Angeles, we numbered over 60 apt listeners, (and one of the featured speakers, Angelica Salas of CHIRLA). It was quite an uplifting and inspiring event. As updates were announced indicating the vast volume of listeners, you could see delighted and frankly surprised faces throughout our crowd. To say that we have momentum and that we are poised to advance the cause of CIR to victory could very well understate the facts on the ground. From the Reform Immigration FOR America campaign blog:

“There were 1,009 house parties in 45 states and Puerto Rico that gathered to join the town hall with Representative Luis Gutierrez. More than 60,000 people called in, joined house parties or listened to live radio broadcasts.”

While the content of the event was not so much news as it was a call to action, it is noteworthy that Rep. Gutierrez did promise to introduce his CIR bill in Congress sometime in December of this year.

It might be equally noteworthy to mention that Angelica Salas mentioned the startling fact that the “anti” e-mails and faxes to Congress outnumbered those of CIR proponents by 20-1, a fact which directly contributed to the failure of the bill in 2007. Much of the meeting centered around a discussion of how we plan to turn that figure around this time.

And yet, I must mention that while calls, faxes, texts, and e-mails are going to be hugely important in this fight, I want to caution my fellow advocates that there will be much more to a victorious strategy than the blunt instrument of overwhelming support from within.

Political muscle may be fundamental to passing CIR, but persuasive arguments must also be nuanced into the overall strategy. There is a definite distinction between forcing CIR down the nation’s throat, and persuading the opposition to consider the overall benefits to our society. I am not so naive as to believe that the Republicans will be anxious to hand President Obama a victory of any kind, much less one that clearly endears him and his party to the Hispanic community, second largest and fastest growing minority contingent in the nation.

However, there is still reason to believe that we can use the issue of CIR to unite the political stalemate and enmity that currently exists between the parties, if we can win over some of the moderates. If “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” then we must point out that CIR will have its elements of sweetness for everyone. This is not just about “giving a gift” to the Hispanic community. It is really about fixing a broken American System to the benefit of the nation as a whole.

I guess that I am throwing just a bit of cold water on our celebration of last night’s huge victory, because of a conversation that I had earlier in the day with an old friend. This gentleman that I refer to is a very successful businessman, and a huge Republican donor and supporter.

We spoke at length about CIR, and needless to say, he is much less enthusiastic about CIR passing than I am. This, despite that fact the he himself is an immigrant. We had an in-depth conversation, and I was a little surprised to hear this gentleman, who is extremely bright and politically astute, parrot many of the false lines propagated by the anti-CIR propagandists, such as the Center for Immigration Studies, and Numbers USA. Believe me when I say that we have much work to do, if we want to have intelligent and fact based national discussions on the merits of CIR.

For example, there has been much work lately by organizations such as the Immigration Policy Center, that detail the economic advantages inherent in CIR.

“The 2007 immigration reform bill, which included a legalization program, would also have more than paid for its reform provisions through increased tax revenue. The CBO and JCT have estimated that the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, as amended by the Senate through May 24, 2007, would have generated $48 billion in new revenue during 2008-2017 from income and payroll taxes, as well as various administrative fees.38

Although it might seem that subtracting 8.3 million unauthorized immigrant workers2 from the labor force would automatically improve job prospects for the 15.7 million Americans who are now unemployed,3 the fact is that employment is not a “zero sum” game. Mass deportation is not the solution to the nation’s unemployment problem.”

I will say that my conversation with my old friend ended well, and while we agreed to disagree on some of the minor points of CIR, I believe that he found that when the bill is discussed in its entirety, and not just labeled “amnesty,” that his/the Republican position was not too different than what is being discussed by Senator Schumer, Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano, and even Representative Luis Gutierrez. Additionally, even the divisive issue of “earned legalization” is not fundamentally against their principals, when discussed in the context of the enforcement provisions included in the legislation. Ultimately, he offered that he favored a “compassionate solution” to the issue of the undocumented that are already here, especially when I emphasized that earned legalization would require a background check, paying taxes, learning English, etc..

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of compassion in this debate. The fact that so many of our nation’s religious leaders are united behind the compassionate solution of CIR is paramount to our winning over at least some of the more conservative states, and thus their Senator’s votes.

It might surprise many people to discover that even Roy Beck, Executive Director of NumbersUSA, in an on air radio debate with Kevin Johnson, Dean of UC Davis Law School, opened the door to “compelling cases,” such as parents with citizen children. He estimated that there were 5-6 million undocumented residents with have citizen children that he would consider offering a pathway to legalization to, in the name of compassion. On the other hand, he pledged to kill CIR, so he will continue to be a pebble in our collective shoes, as far as passing CIR goes.

The point that I want to drive home, in relation to last nights huge success, is that we must unite behind the power of our numbers, as well as the power of our arguments. When the facts are on your side, argue the facts. The facts support CIR. Therefore, we have to try to bring the moderates along, as opposed to leaving them in our powerful wake.

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